In a battle of WNBA elites, a rush to get on the board first
UNCASVILLE, CT — Game 1 of the WNBA semifinal series between the Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks featured an abundance of star power, with both sides scrambling to hold or gain home court after a regular season in which both teams dominated on their own floor.
More from Connecticut Sun
- Aces Wild: Las Vegas wins first WNBA Championship over Sun
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 1: Why the Sun set on Connecticut’s season
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 28: All-Rookie team announced
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 24: Playoff Stewie time
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, September 21: COVID scare for Seattle
Ultimately, the home team received what it needed from its mainstays, and took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series, 84-75.
MOP cleans up early
Candace Parker found Nneka Ogwumike for the first points of the game on a baseline drive, then a second on a backdoor feed to Ogwumike to facilitate early. Seven points, four rebounds, two assists and a block by end of the first quarter for Parker, who clearly had been here before.
Parker continued to dominate play when she was on the floor, and spent a timeout late in the second quarter, after sinking an impossible step-through shot that led to a Curt Miller timeout, talking through much of it to Chelsea Gray, providing leadership in real time. Then she punctuated the half with a block of a driving Jasmine Thomas.
The Sun MVP early was AT
But the defenses both quickly asserted themselves, however, with the Sun forcing four early turnovers and the Sparks pushing the Sun into some uncharacteristic early difficult shots. With Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams missing early on, it was Alyssa Thomas carrying the load, scoring 13 points in the first quarter alone, often on drives down the court from rebounds she’d corralled at the other end.
“Alyssa certainly, we run her early and she was in her downhill attacking mode,” Miller said after the game. “And, really allowed us for the game to settle in, with that start.”
Jones and Williams, meanwhile combined with one field goal in the first quarter. Even so, the Sun led, 21-14, on a three by Jasmine Thomas at the buzzer.
Anyone can be the hero
Adjustments in the second on both teams made for a different game flow. For the Sun, Curt Miller went to Bri Jones for Jonquel Jones after the latter was ineffective early. And Derek Fisher countered with a set of Ogwumikes, Alana Beard, Sydney Wiese and Riquna Williams. It only seemed to speed up the Sun, and Fisher quickly got Candace Parker back in the game. Bri Jones picked up two quick fouls, so it was on to a big lineup with Jonquel Jones, Morgan Tuck, Alyssa Thomas and Shekinna Stricklen as an oversized two, Courtney Williams the only titular guard (though Alyssa Thomas is skilled enough to be one, and plays like it). Fisher countered with a smaller five, putting Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike next to a trio of guards.
Essentially, this is how you can expect the series to go. Both teams have so many different looks, benches that won’t likely be shortened much, that Miller and Fisher can counteract one another every time out.
A third-quarter surge
Coming out of the half trailing 40-37, the Sun hit three threes early in the period, two of them on drive-and-kick feeds from Courtney Williams to Shekinna Stricklen. The offense looked more like the top-three machine it had been all season.
Quickly enough, both defenses asserted themselves once again, and an officiating crew fought to keep things civil, and it was left to big players to rise above in fits and starts — a Courtney Williams baseline jumper, a Candace Parker three. The Sun led, 59-58, heading to the final quarter.
“Our focus coming in was on defense, period,” Sun guard Jasmine Thomas said. “That’s where we pride ourselves — play tough defense and disrupt.”
The fourth quarter saw Jonquel Jones take over, along with Williams, the Sun stars rising to the challenge of winning this one at home. Jones hit a pair of threes, Williams was a factor at both ends, and the performances necessary for the Sun to maximize their potential manifested itself through the team’s two biggest stars.
Williams hit a vintage tough two around a screen on one end, secured the rebound at the defensive end, turning a 76-70 game into an all-but decided contest with just over a minute of play.
“Put the ball in my hand, I’m going to do my best to go get a bucket, I’m going to do my best to get a rebound, get a stop,” Williams said when it was over. “Whatever I’ve got to do for us to win, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.